Data about individuals, about their preferences and behaviors, has become an
increasingly important resource for companies, public agencies, and research
institutions. Consumers carry the burden of having to decide which data about
them is shared for which purpose. They want to make sure that data about
them is not used to infer intimate details of their private life or to pursue other
undesirable purposes. At the same time, they want to benefit from personalized
products and innovation driven by the same data. The complexity of how
data is collected and used overwhelms consumers, many of whom wearily accept
privacy policies and lose trust that those who gain effective control over
the data will use it for the consumers’ benefit.
At the same time, a few large companies accumulate and lock in vast amounts
of data that enable them to use insights across markets and across consumers.
In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has given data
rights to consumers to assert their interests vis-a-vis those companies, but it
gives consumers neither enough information nor enough power to make themselves
heard. Other organizations, especially small businesses or start-ups,
do not have access to the data (unless individual consumers laboriously exercise
their right to portability), which often inhibits competition and innovation.
Governments across Europe would like to tackle the challenge of reconciling
productive data use with privacy. In recent months, data trusts have emerged
as a promising solution to enable data-sharing for the benefit of consumers.
The concept has been endorsed by a broad range of stakeholders, including
privacy advocates, companies and expert commissions. In Germany, for example,
the data ethics commission and the commission competition law 4.0
have recommended further exploring data trusts, and the government is incorporating
the concept into its data strategy.

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